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COVID fails to slow academic collaboration

24 March 2021
Sydney signs new university partner
Academic collaboration has continued to thrive in the absence of international travel, with the University of Sydney signing a new strategic partner and organising high-profile virtual conferences, including one that attracted more than 28,000 researchers.

Partnership with Indian university

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Garton and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) Professor Kathy Belov sign a new partnership agreement with Manipal Academy of Higher Education over video conference.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Garton recently signed a University-wide partnership agreement with Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India, a research-intensive university in southern India which counts Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella among its notable alumni.

The health-themed partnership has grown organically from collaborations between health researchers at the two institutions, which have most recently focused on preventing the next global pandemic.

For example, Dr Michael Walsh, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, is leading several research projects to advance surveillance capabilities and training in India to prevent zoonotic and vector-borne infectious diseases threats spreading to humans, particularly in high population areas.

His recent research revealed south and southeast Asia as well as Sub-Saharan Africa have the most cities at greatest risk of being the starting point of the next pandemic.

In the future, the partnership will explore opportunities for student exchange as well as academic workshops to identify new areas for research collaboration.  

Sydney also counts the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, IIT Bombay, IIT Madras and Tech Mahindra, India’s leading technology company, among its Indian partners.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) Professor Kathy Belov said: “We recognise India as a country of strategic importance and are looking to build on our existing collaborative projects to develop a University-wide approach to our activities in India. We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate on issues of global significance, such as food security, climate change, and non-communicable disease.”

We recognise India as a country of strategic importance and ... are excited about the opportunity to collaborate on issues of global significance, such as food security, climate change, and non-communicable disease.”
Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) Professor Kathy Belov

VC speaks at global impact conference

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen Garton joined senior leaders from the United Nations (UN) as well as from other top universities, including Yale, the National University of Singapore and Zhejiang University, in a global virtual event on 24 March on how universities can help realise the UN Sustainable Development Goals

“As we consider our role in the next decade, comprehensive universities around the world have a moral obligation to contribute more heavily to progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals – through our research, our education and our operations,” Professor Garton said.

“As we work in partnership with others to achieve the goals, events of the past year, with COVID-19 following the bushfires of the Australian summer, make the need for common understanding and action abundantly clear. These events herald a future we must confront.” 

Sydney is ranked 2nd in the world in the Times Higher Education Impact rankings, which measure how universities are contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. See the University of Sydney’s progress.

The event, organised by Chinese partner Zhejiang University, was recorded and is accessible via Youtube.

Virtual conferences on COVID, food security

Sydney has also organised several international academic conferences recently, including one with China Agricultural University on global food security and agricultural sustainability which attracted an incredible 28,000 academics.

Another, on the impact of COVID-19 on common non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, linked academics from top universities across the Asia-Pacific, including at Peking University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), while a series of virtual workshops with Sydney priority partner the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras focused on biomedical engineering.

At the workshop with IIT Madras, Associate Professor Jinman Kim, from the Faculty of Engineering, spoke of his work with the Indian university to develop a machine-learning framework to analyse feotal ultrasound images. The framework utilised more than 3.8 million ultrasound images and is being used to predict neurodevelopment disorders in children.

Benefits of international academic collaboration

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) Professor Kathy Belov said the benefits of global academic collaboration had never been more apparent than in the past year.

“COVID has shown us what can be done if academics, government and industry come together to focus on finding solutions for pressing global issues,” she said.

Professor Julie Leask with COVID cell

“One of our own academics, Professor Eddie Holmes, was part of the international team of academics that first sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 genome, laying the groundwork for the development of vaccines, which are now being rolled out across the world.”

“Another of our academics, Professor Julie Leask [pictured above], is chairing a World Health Organisation (WHO) Working Group on the behavioural and social drivers of vaccination – helping countries maximise uptake.”

“As international travel has halted and the world contracts, international collaboration, in fact, becomes increasingly important. In adversity lies opportunity.”

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